By Scott Meacham
Copyright © 2017, The Oklahoma Publishing Co.
There’s one question we ask of every team that makes the finals of the Love’s Entrepreneur’s Cup business plan competition: “Is this a business plan you are going to pursue once this competition is over?”
I think it’s the most important question that gets asked — and it doesn’t really matter whether the students answer yes or no.
Whatever they do after the Love’s Cup, wherever they go, they are formed by this experience. They recognize entrepreneurship as a viable career choice. They gain a real-world appreciation for what it takes — and how exhilarating it can be.
Teams from all over Oklahoma spend an entire semester, sometimes two, asking every question that a founder of an actual company would ask. They learn the most important lesson of business success — that all products and services must have market validation by real potential customers to succeed.
If that’s all they learn from this competition, these teams have learned something huge. But they learn so much more.
They learn the nitty-gritty of building a company. They learn advanced problem solving and real-world business communication skills and how to work together as a team. They learn how to apply the power of diverse perspectives to build a better business plan. They learn the ins and outs of industries that are the backbone of Oklahoma’s economy — aerospace, advanced materials, and health care.
The 2017 first-place High Growth graduate winner from the University of Tulsa, Composite Damage Solutions, has developed a two-part solution that is injected into composite material to detect damage or cracking. A first application could be in aerospace allowing assessment of airplane damage to occur more efficiently.
The first-place High Growth undergraduate winning team from Oklahoma State University delivered a business plan for VisionaRX, a noninvasive drug delivery platform technology that embeds drug-loaded nanoparticles on a blank contact lens.
VisuALS, the Small Business Division first-place winning plan from Oklahoma Christian University, provides affordable communications solutions to people with motor control and communications difficulties, restoring their independence, dignity, and hope.
When a Love’s Cup team says yes, that they are ready to start a company, i2E is there as great resource to get them started. Not every situation is ready for our services, but many are, and for those, our Venture Assessment Program is the next step.
Many of the teams that did not place in the top of this year’s competition were every bit as good as some of the teams that took prizes in our early years. That’s a testament to how well our advisers and academic institutions, from community colleges to the research universities, are training our students not only for this competition, but to become real world entrepreneurs.
We have great things to look forward to with this generation. It is already happening.
Scott Meacham is president and CEO of i2E Inc., a nonprofit corporation that mentors many of the state’s technology-based startup companies. i2E receives state support from the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology and is an integral part of Oklahoma’s Innovation Model. Contact Meacham at i2E_Comments@i2E.org.